MENLO PARK, Calif. - Facebook did an about-face Friday as CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced increasing pressure from an advertiser boycott #stophateforprofit, that accuses Facebook and other social media companies of profiting from hate speech and allowing the proliferation of false or misleading information on their platforms, even if that content violates company rules.
Zuckerberg announced that the company will make policy changes "to connect people with authoritative information about voting, crack down on voter suppression, and fight hate speech."
A wave of companies have given Facebook a thumbs down, by pulling tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue from social media sites.
A coalition of groups including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League launched the boycott on June 17th with the hashtag #stophateforprofit, asking companies to avoid spending money on social media ads during the month of July.
More than 80 companies joined the boycott as it gained momentum and drew large corporations such as Coca-cola, Honda, Patagonia,and Verizon.
On Friday, corporate giant Unilever which owns well-known brands such as Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Dove soap, went a step further, saying the company, which is based in the Netherlands and Britain, would not advertise on Facebook or Twitter through the end of the year.
In a statement Unilever's leadership said, "Given our Responsibility Framework and the polarized atmosphere in the U.S., we have decided that starting now through at least the end of the year, we will not run brand advertising in social media news feed platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the U.S. Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society."
The financial markets reacted, sending Facebook's stock down more than 8% and Twitter's stock down more than 7% by the end of the day Friday.
Some say Facebook's new policies to create are important leading into the November presidential election.
"What has happened in the past is people have put out false narratives about don't go vote today, it's tomorrow," said Henry Brady, Dean of the U.C. Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy.
"Here's a place where these companies can easily decide they're not going to put messages that are patently false and that are meant to prevent people from voting," said Brady, adding that Facebook seemed to be acting in response to the lost ad revenue rather than the concerns that have been raised for years.
"They did it somewhat belatedly and grudgingly, and it's not clear they went far enough," said Brady.
Among the Facebook policy changes:
1. Create a verified Voter Information Center, with links to official election information sites.
2. Fight voter suppression, such as taking down posts with false claims that threaten immigrants or misrepresent voting conditions.
3. Reducing ads with hate speech or that threaten certain groups
4. Putting labels on content that violates rules but is deemed "newsworthy."
It plans to flag all "newsworthy" posts that break its rules, including those from President Donald Trump.
"We've invested heavily in both AI systems and human review teams so that now we identify almost 90% of the hate speech we remove before anyone even reports it to us," says Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg has repeatedly maintained that social media sites such as Facebook should not bear responsibility for curating content posted on its site. He refused to take action against President Trump's posts suggesting that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud and another post where the President suggested shooting looters. Twitter, on the other hand, has flagged or blocked several messages by the President and put a "get the facts" label on some.
Hany Farid, a computer science professor at U.C. Berkeley, is a digital forensics expert who is working on research to detect fake videos and has received partial funding from Facebook for his work. Farid is critical of Zuckerberg's changes, saying they don't go far enough.
"There's pretty good evidence that labels don't actually work very well. That people typically ignore them or if they see them they actually backfire," said Farid.
Farid says social media companies' claim they are only a neutral platform is misleading.
"The vast majority we see on a daily basis is designed for us based on our personal data and viewing habits, almost solely to keep us engaged on the platform to deliver advertising so the companies make money. That is not even close to being neutral," said Farid.
Farid says Zuckerberg's post falls short of addressing the problems with social media's business model and the boycott shows where the power to push for change really lies.
"You saw today the real power fueling social media. It is not the public. It is not our regulators. It is 10 to 20 CEO's around the world that are fueling the modern day social media," said Farid.
The Associated Press contributed to this KTVU report.